Jamaica has turned me into a woman

If her parents never had confidence in her, Krishna Jayasankar would not have travelled to Jamaica.

But for the last six months, this north Caribbean island has been her energiser at dawn, her strength by midday, and her pillow at night, as the talented discus thrower embarks on an athletic trek that is intended for her to outdo any woman produced by populous Asian nation, India.

Now, she is willing to admit that a personal revolution has occurred by this revelation: “Jamaica has turned me into a woman,” the 18-year-old said in a chat with the Jamaica Observer last week, as she prepared for another training session with legendary Jamaican Throws Coach Michael Vassell at Throwers ‘R’ Us base on the compound of Excelsior High School in St Andrew South Eastern.

Her ultimate goal is to attain the qualifying standard for the World Athletics Under-20 Championships to be held in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi from August 17 to 22, which would put her in good stead for a scholarship to read for a degree in international business administration, psychology, or linguistics at a United States university starting August. That is why she has been participating in the Olympic Destiny Series at the National Stadium, and will also lace up for the National Junior Championships, and the National Senior Championships, between late June and July.

India, the land of cricket, Yoga, mangoes and curry, has not done well in athletics despite its large population. But Krishna believes that in time, and with the requisite discipline, she will better the efforts of two juniors before her, who secured bronze medals in the event in 2003 and 2015 at world-recognised junior championships.

The qualifying standard of 49 metres is just a throw away for Krishna, whose 48.27 metres best so far will be bettered soon, she predicts, even going up to the 50-metre mark.

She chose the Jamaican experience after the academy in India where she trained, that belonged to legendary former Indian wrist spinner, Anil Kumble, was closed due to the outbreak of the novel coronavirus.

Vassell, who had spent over three years in India coaching at the academy, returned to Jamaica after the outbreak, which spurred Krishna to follow soon after, as she was hell-bent on continuing the training techniques that her coach had started to instill in her programme.

“Mr Vassell was the best option that I had. He knew me, he knew how I trained and I actually started winning medals in 2019, when I came third and I threw 43.59. The academy got closed because of the pandemic and for that reason Mr Russell had to come back, and I had two choices, either to stop what I was doing and drop sports, because India does not have a really good throwing programme although we are getting better, or to leave my country, my comfort zone and come to Jamaica,” she said.

But coming to Jamaica allowed her maturity to reach unlimited heights, and many of the things that she would normally have looked to others to do, in particular her parents, she was forced to take on.

“Jamaica has turned me into a woman, yes, because I had not travelled out of India, it was my first time, and Jamaica was my first place. I have been here since January 10. It has been an adventurous, roller-coaster time. In India I was pampered by my parents. Everything I used to depend on my parents for, but when I came to Jamaica I have become independent because I have learnt my way out, for example, washing the dishes, cooking, doing my clothes, travelling and all these things. In India I had people to support me, my parents were always there…just a call and my mom and dad would help me out. In Jamaica it’s completrely different. I can’t depend on anybody, I have to do things for myself,” Krishna said.

“So Jamaica has really turned me into a woman, because when I go to the US I will know what to do, because I already have the experience in Jamaica. So it should be an easy process for me. I will know what to do and what not to do,” she added.

“Jamaicans are very broad-minded. They are pretty open and they are very easygoing. Also, Jamaican people are very nice, very humble, especially when they come to know that I am all by myself, they shower extra love and they have been very kind.”

When it comes to tackling the local cuisine, that has already been conquered, top of the list being the solid love that she has “big time” for Jamaican patties, festivals, and jerk chicken, in particular, with a concentration in foods not too spicy. Of course, engaging her hands to maintain the Indian culinary touch remains paramount, relying closely on recipes handed down by her mother. But there is still something that has not reached the palate yet, and that is lobster prepared by Gloria’s Restaurant, which she has heard so much about.

Being an athlete too, red meat also helps with getting the best from a meaningful programme.

“As an athlete I consume beef for strength. Plus Kerala, where I am from, is a state in the southern part of India that actually consumes a lot of beef. A majority of the population are Christians and we have Syrian beef that is very famous in Kerala. My dad and mom who are Hindus they have had beef, pork,, chicken, and I love eating,” she revealed.

“People ask me if I find a lot of differences between India and Jamaica and I say no, because Kerala has a lot of similarities to Jamaica and it’s also the coastal region. We use coconut oil, we consume a lot of coconut, it’s very famous for fish, seafood,” she continued.

As for handling the Jamaican dialect, that too is under control, although her coach insists that she tones down a bit, while describing her oral presentation as fitting ‘Uptown Patwah’.

But her fluency in English can take her anywhere, backed with her knowledge of French, and five other Indian languages including the national tongue, Hindi, and Tamil, makes communicating not as unrealistic as one would imagine.

And what was her first impression about Jamaica that eventually convinced her to pack up and travel so far?

“Usain Bolt and Bob Marley,” she responded without blinking an eyelid. “Bolt has been the epitome for any track and field athlete. I even remember when I was getting cleared by customs in India to come to Jamaica, the first thing they said was ‘oh, so you are going to Usain Bolt’s country’. So everybody knows Usain Bolt, and second would be Bob Marley.”

As a youth, the natural inclination would be for her to be immersed in entertainment activities, but not so for her, even as reality of COVID-19 would cramp the possibility of many such occurrences.

“My training has taken care of that because my schedule is tight. I am training in the week, competing on Saturday, so the only day I get for myself is Sunday. It hasn’t affected me. I like to listen to Jamaican music, to people like Shenseea, Skillibeng, Chronixx etc. I have been to the beach twice in Hellshire and Ocho Rios, but I want to go to Negril, and also want to do scuba diving. But for entertainment I love to cook for people, I love to draw and listen to music.”

Knock on wood… Krishna is one foreigner who is not bothered by crime, though life in Jamaica has increased her vigilance, and made her more conscious of her surroundings, as one who takes the JUTC bus, and taxis frequently.

“Crime is everywhere, so I would say no. I don’t get to see a lot of violence and crime so I am good,” she asserted.

“Jamaica taught me to be very vigilant, because in India you know people, and its home, so you don’t have to be that vigilant as compared to when you are in a foreign land.”

Throughout the interview, Krishna emphasised the support that she has received from her family – mother C Prasanna Jayasankar, father C Jayasankar Menon, and sister Archanna Jayasankar in her move to Jamaica. She keeps in touch with them every day, despite the huge time difference.

“I would like to thank my family. They have played a vital role in where I am right now. My parents have shown confidence in me, because nobody knows what Jamaica is like, it’s a new country, and my family has been there for me,” said the teen, who turns 19 on November 19.

“It’s a big deal to send an Indian girl, especially a teenager overseas. If I had overseas exposure it would not be so much of a concern, but I never had an overseas exposure. I am making my family proud. I cannot thank them enough, they have always been there for me… ups and downs. At the end of the day, the people who love you are the people who care for you. I am very happy to have my mom, my dad, my sister, and we remain very close,” she said.

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